Friday, September 10, 2010

What's the Right Path?

Church history. There’s church history and then there’s your church history and my church history.

You’d think, with all the churches I’ve been involved with throughout my adult life, that this would have happened by now. But never before have I been involved in a church split.

I began attending this church six years ago. I knew then that this was a crazy time to become involved with a mainline denomination. They’ve all been embroiled in conflict for years over the validity of their biblical roots and the identity of Jesus Christ. So, why would I start going to such a church now?

It was the next step in the circle of my journey. All my favorite writers are of this faith tradition, and the way they write about faith is quite attractive to me. The liturgy, the historical roots, the central place of Communion in worship … it all beckoned to me.

How many churches have I attended over the years? I don’t know. My reasons for leaving are varied. Several times because I simply moved to another state or town. Twice because of dysfunctional leadership. Another time to find a better children’s ministry for our kids. And sometimes, it’s just time to move on.

It’s not that I like moving around, switching allegiances, breaking relationships. As I’ve gotten older, relationships have become the most important reason for remaining in a church. That is the deciding factor for me now. For instance, one church I attended had some disturbing things going on, but I stayed because of friendships and loyalties. Then my friends began leaving. One day I looked around and saw hardly anyone I really knew.

“Why am I here?” I asked myself. “Out of loyalty to this building?”

In some realms of life, I am willing to be classified: I am a writer, mother, wife, sister, runner, student, home-maker, friend, employee. But I have never taken on a religious label. I am not Pentecostal, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Charismatic, Mennonite. Perhaps this is my lack. I do not say this is right for everyone.

I don’t join churches anymore. I have not seen that joining a church makes anyone more loyal to it or causes them to stay any longer. I’m opposed to taking vows I don’t plan to abide by. Plus, I’m just uncomfortable with institutions of any type. Perhaps that’s just because I’ve never found any worth pledging to.

“The greatest evil is found where the greatest good has been corrupted,” wrote Thomas Merton.

T.S. Eliot said it this way:
Sin grows with doing good …
Servant of God has chance of greater sin
And sorrow, than the man who serves a king.
For those who serve the greater
cause may make the cause serve them,
Still doing right.

The church is the people, not the institution. I was attracted to my church’s traditions, but it was the authenticity of the people and the possibility of real, caring relationships that caused me to stay. I was tired of church politics. This church, I felt, was a place I could learn to trust again, make friends, plug in, serve, find community and contentment. And it was, very much so, until a year ago. I call it the exodus, when half my friends left.

“I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I would have the guts to betray my country” (from “Two Cheers for Democracy” by E.M. Forster).

My problem is that I’m not principled enough to take either side. The institutions don’t matter to me and I cannot make decisions for or against groups of friends. I resent being put in this position. I do not resent any single person but this thing, this … what do I call it? What do I call it? Perhaps if I could name it, there would be something to take sides against.

What would you call it? Have you ever been involved in a church split? Do you still think you did the right thing? How did it all turn out?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

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